Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Previously we saw how a BBC News website report on the US decision to close the PLO office in Washington DC failed to provide readers with an adequate explanation of both the legal background to that decision and the fact that the same Palestinian officials now protesting it have had nearly three years in which to study the requirements for keeping that mission open.

The September 10th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ closed with an item on the same story which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:05 here) with the following framing:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “The Trump administration is piling the pressure on the Palestinians. It’s already ended bilateral funding and also funding to the UN agency which looks after Palestinian refugees. President Trump says they’re ungrateful and should return to the negotiating table with Israel. And today the US ordered the closure of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington. The US State Department said the Palestinians were refusing to engage with the US over peace efforts. US National Security Advisor John Bolton also touched on the topic in his speech excoriating the International Criminal Court. He said the US decision to close the mission in Washington was a result of the court’s insistence on investigating Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In contrast to Marshall’s claim, the ICC’s preliminary investigations in fact came as a result of actions by the Palestinian Authority beginning in January 2015. Listeners then heard a recording of John Bolton speaking on the same day.

Recording Bolton: “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel. And today, reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the Department of State will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office here in Washington DC and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process and we will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Marshall: “So why is Mr Bolton conflating two issues: the ICC and the Palestinians? Our State Department correspondent again, Barbara Plett-Usher.

While it is obvious that Barbara Plett-Usher is aware of the history and legal background to this story, BBC World Service listeners did not hear a lucid explanation. Despite the BBC having itself reported on Palestinian petitions to the ICC – including as recently as in May – Plett-Usher disingenuously portrayed that topic as though it were a claim dreamed up by John Bolton.

Plett-Usher: “Well that’s because Congress conflated them. Congress put some conditions on the ability of the PLO to open an office in Washington, one of which was that the Palestinians could not be going after Israel in the ICC and you heard there Mr Bolton saying they were in fact trying to do that. But even then, even if the Palestinians had made such moves, the PLO office could still be allowed to operate here if the Palestinians were engaging in peace talks with the Israelis, which they are not. They’re boycotting the US attempts to revive negotiations because they see them as blatantly favouring the Israelis on core issues. But the administration used these two arguments, these two conditions put down by Congress, to close down the mission.”

Marshall: “And has this mission in Washington been useful for the Palestinians?”

Misrepresenting the title of the PLO envoy to Washington and giving a partisan interpretation of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles, Plett-Usher replied:

Plett-Usher: “I think it’s been more useful at some times than at others but by and large what it was, it was set up after the Oslo Accords were negotiated in ’93-’94 and this was the sort of point man point in Washington to liaise with the US administration on efforts to implement those accords which of course were supposed to result in a Palestinian state and never did. More recently the diplomats here have engaged in direct outreach to Americans – to churches, civil organisations, students and the like – trying to build support for the Palestinians, to take advantage of a decrease in support for the Israeli government policies among Americans but also including American Jews. In fact the PLO ambassador claims that that was one reason they were shut down.”

Plett-Usher refrained from mentioning reports that the PLO mission in Washington had been funding campus activity of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the US.

Marshall then went on to introduce his second contributor, failing to clarify to listeners that Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Marshall: “[…] and earlier I spoke to Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and former negotiator. What’s her reaction to Mr Bolton’s remarks?”

[48:23] Ashrawi: “This is not an act that happened in isolation. It’s part of a concerted American assault on Palestinian rights, on the chances of peace [laughs] and on any semblance of justice, on legality and solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And it seems to me the US is certainly doing Israel’s bidding and is trying to resolve all issues by bashing the Palestinians, by punishing the Palestinians – who are already under occupation – and by rewarding Israel and granting it full immunity to act outside the law with full impunity.”

Marshall: “The United States says it’s doing this because the Palestinians are not supporting peace talks with Israel.”

Ashrawi: [laughs] That’s extremely ironic. There are no talks. There are no plans. There is no negotiating table to invite us back to: the US has smashed it into smithereens. It has decided unilaterally to give away Jerusalem to Israel which is illegal because Jerusalem is occupied territory – it is Palestinian land. It has decided single-handedly to redefine Palestinian refugees and to stop funding UNRWA which is an international organisation specifically set up to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees. It has unilaterally decided that the settlements are not illegal, that it doesn’t want the ’67 boundaries or the two-state solution. So what does it want? Right now it is busy telling the Palestinians if you do not surrender to our dictates, if you do not accept all these steps then you are going to be punished again and Israel is rewarded. So it’s extremely ironic. It’s really disingenuous to talk about peace. Actually now we are being punished because we dared ask the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation of Israeli war crimes and as you know, settlements are a war crime by international definition according to the Rome Statute.”

Making no effort whatsoever to challenge Ashrawi’s egregious portrayal of Jerusalem as “Palestinian land”, her “war crimes” smear or her partisan interpretation of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, Marshall changed the subject.

Marshall: “Do you have any idea what the US peace plan is? Because the Trump administration says that the Palestinian leadership has condemned that plan that they haven’t even seen [Ashrawi laughs] and refused to engage the US government with respect to peace efforts in other words.”

Ashrawi: “Yes of course we refuse because we don’t need to talk about a plan; they’re implementing it. I mean anybody who has any sense – any sight – would see that the US is busy dismantling every single component or requirement of peace. These issues are very clear. So it’s not that we [laughs] are not talking peace. We have been talking peace for decades and we’ve negotiated with numerous American administrations. It’s this one that has…I think it has lost its mind. I think in this mad, hysterical defence of Israel, they just don’t make sense. They have lost their balance and it’s really serious because they’re creating a situation of tremendous volatility.”

Marshall: “How do the Palestinians now though gain their independent state? You’ve rejected the United States as a mediator; you’re not prepared at the moment to sit down with Israel. How do you achieve your political objectives?”

Ashrawi: “Well the president Mahmoud Abbas last year declared or announced an initiative about convening an international conference about the requirements of peace. There is a plan but obviously when the US has taken sides so blatantly and I think now it’s up to the international community that has to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinians and to hold Israel to account and now to hold the US to account.”

Failing to inform listeners that Abbas’ ‘international conference’ was supposed to have taken place “by mid-2018“, Marshall closed the item there, once again neglecting to clarify Ashrawi’s PLO links.

As we see, once again BBC audiences were not given an adequate account of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of the US decision to close the PLO mission in Washington. They did, however, hear Hanan Ashrawi’s political talking points, inaccuracies and distortions go completely unchallenged for four straight minutes in this one-sided presentation of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

 

 

 

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BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners sold short by Knell’s portrayal of Jerusalem

The BBC’s domestic coverage of the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled territories continued on June 26th with no fewer than three items aired on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In addition to reports from the corporation’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond at 0:12:30 and during the news bulletin at 2:08:38, listeners also heard a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell at 1:20:40.

During that report Knell – like Jeremy Bowen in the previous day’s programme – brought up the topic of the objection of an Israeli minister to the wording of the itinerary put out by the Royal Household.

[emphasis in italics in the original]

1:22:26 Knell: “On his solo trip the prince will watch Jewish and Arab Israeli children playing football. But political differences here aren’t always so easy to overcome. Israeli politicians are criticising his schedule for presenting Jerusalem’s Old City as part of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Obviously if the BBC’s domestic audiences are to understand the reason for the objection to that description of the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ they would need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They would also need to be informed of the belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

However in typical BBC style, Yolande Knell erased all the history prior to June 1967 from her simplistic account:

Knell: “Israel captured the east of the city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that’s not internationally recognised. It sees all the city as its capital but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.”

Knell then went on to provide listeners with an overtly partisan view of the issue from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

Knell: “Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says the Palace is using the right descriptions.”

Ashrawi: “The only country that has violated international law openly and admitted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the US…is Trump. And the UK has not changed its position. It still considers Jerusalem as occupied territory. You cannot expect the royal visit to come and become complicit in land theft and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.”

Not only did Knell not bother to challenge Ashrawi’s inaccurate and deliberately provocative claim of “land theft” or to clarify that her selected contributor’s claims concerning “international law” are a matter of opinion, she did not even make the effort to inform Radio 4 listeners that – as she doubtless knows, because their embassies are located in the same Jerusalem complex as the BBC’s own offices – in addition to the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay have also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Instead, Knell simply changed the subject and moved on with her report.

While it is standard BBC practice to avoid informing audiences of the history and status of Jerusalem before June 1967 – including the internationally unrecognised 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of the city – obviously that practice does not contribute to meeting the BBC’s public purpose obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

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BBC R4’s ‘Today’ forces Brexit and Gaza into royal visit report

BBC News website adopts selective history in royal visit article

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

The December 6th US proclamation recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city made it very clear that nothing in that announcement was intended to define the boundaries of the city.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders. Above all, our greatest hope is for peace, including through a two-state solution, if agreed to by both sides.”

That key part of the announcement has not been featured widely in BBC coverage of the story’s various chapters and indeed audiences have been led to believe that the US announcement somehow compromises or negates final status talks on Jerusalem.  

Despite the US statement having specifically clarified that it does not define boundaries or borders, presenter Julian Marshall introduced an item (from 30:05 here and billed as examining the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”) aired in the January 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “And now, Jerusalem – or rather the way in which President Trump’s recognition of the entire city as Israel’s capital has poisoned Washington’s relations with the Palestinians. The December the 6th declaration led Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to say that the United States could no longer play any role in the Middle East peace process. This week President Trump threatened to cut off the more than $300 million in aid that the United States gives to the Palestinians because of what he said was their lack of gratitude and unwillingness to talk to Israel. But the Palestinians say they won’t be blackmailed and have reiterated their position that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian politician.”

Listeners were not told of the relevant fact that Hanan Ashrawi is also a member of the PLO executive committee and heads its department of culture and information.

Ashrawi: “They’re buying us in the same way as they threatened the rest of the world: if you vote against us we will stop assistance to you. Yes, the US has been paying hundreds of millions here and there, mainly spent on American [unintelligible] companies. But still, we can survive without American aid and there is no way in which we can accept or allow Trump to be…not just to be complicit in Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem but to sabotage the basic requirements of an agreement that will have any claim to legitimacy and permanence.”

Marshall: “So if Mr Trump was to carry out his threat, how reliant are the Palestinians on US aid? Hugh Lovatt is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations – a think tank – specialising on Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

That introduction obviously gives listeners the impression that they are about to hear from a neutral commentator but Hugh Lovatt has advocated for FIFA sanctions against Israeli football teams, has recommended that the EU support the compilation of a blacklist of “unlawful business activity related to settlements” and recognise “the State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza based on the 1967 border” [sic] and believes that there are “moderates” within Hamas.

Lovatt: “So the US provides the Palestinians with about $700 million per year. That sum is split between UNRWA, which is the UN agency that provides relief and services to Palestinian refugees and about just under $400 million goes to that. And then the rest is actually sent to the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah and then that…the majority of that goes to USAID projects which provide humanitarian and development works and activities and then a rather small amount of that, which is I think $36 million, is provided to train PA security forces.”

Marshall: “And what percentage of the overall international aid that the Palestinians receive is the American funding?”

Lovatt: “So it depends how you count it but it’s…I would say it’s probably just under about 30, 40%. But what I think is important to say is actually, the EU and its member states are equally large if not a slightly larger donor of aid to the Palestinian Authority and to UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And do you think that the European Union would make up any shortfall were the Americans to withdraw aid?”

Lovatt: “I think if you look at the short-term there would certainly be an effort within the EU to look at how the unit’s member states can buttress the PA budget which is currently running at a bit of a deficit. But, you know, given the vast amounts of US aid that we’re talking about, you know, over the mid to long-term it’s not imaginable that the EU could fully replace that sum of money.”

Marshall: “So the Palestinian Authority should be rather worried at the moment?”

Lovatt: “They should be but I think we should also be worried. I mean after all, there is a reason that we provide such vast amounts of aid to the Palestinians and it’s not just benevolence. It’s because it also suits our geo-political interests. So, you know, Europeans, Americans, it helps stabilise to a certain extent the Palestinian territories and it has been accused by Palestinians of fragmenting Palestinian civil society and mobilisation aimed at the occupation. It has also, you know, been credited rightly or wrongly with actually having laid the foundation for a Palestinian state. So I think if you take away this aid then it’s not just a Palestinian issue. It actually calls into question the whole basis for international engagement in the Middle East peace process.”

Marshall: “Hugh Lovatt from the European Council on Foreign Relations.”

If listeners were expecting to hear a view reflecting a different angle on the story at that point, they would have been disappointed – as we shall see in part two of this post.

 

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

On December 7th the BBC News website published an article by Barbara Plett Usher on its ‘US & Canada’ page and the same article appeared on the website’s Middle East page as ‘related reading’.

Titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“, the article begins with a subheading informing readers that the US president has ruined Christmas for Palestinians:

“A blue Christmas for Palestinians”

Readers then discover that the first “key takeaway” proffered by Plett Usher is that the PLO has cancelled a party.

“Less than a month ago the Palestinians’ top diplomat in Washington was telling me he thought President Trump might succeed at peacemaking where others had failed.

In every meeting Trump confirmed he would “give his heart and soul” to this process, said Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) representative.

It was an optimistic reading of a frequently rocky process. But there was enough in the efforts of Mr Trump’s peace envoys to give the Palestinians a sense that their relationship with the White House was on an upward trajectory.

Building off the momentum, Mr Zomlot organised a Christmas party on Capitol Hill with a guest list that included members of congress and government officials.

The idea was to live-stream Bethlehem Christmas celebrations into the political heart of America.

When the PLO mission got a late-breaking heads up about the decision on Jerusalem it cancelled the event, saying it would be unsuitable after an “announcement that runs counter to the message of peace”.”

Interestingly, the topic of recent PLO threats to freeze ties with the US – made weeks before the latest story concerning the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem broke – apparently did not come up during Plett Usher’s chats with Husam Zomlot.  

Erasing the fact that the US president had spoken to Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders on the phone prior to his announcement concerning the US embassy and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Plett Usher continued:

“The fact that the Palestinians, and reportedly Arab leaders, were largely taken by surprise is only one sign that the decision was not part of a wider Middle East strategy.”

She went on:

“There’s been speculation that Mr Trump was trying to shake things up as a tactic to prepare the ground for peace talks.

But there’s far more evidence he was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

Under the sub-heading “It’s a Christian thing” Plett Usher then unquestioningly amplified historically illiterate Palestinian claims concerning Christianity. [emphasis added]

“The face of Mike Pence beaming over Mr Trump’s shoulder during the announcement said it all.

The vice-president was an influential voice in convincing Mr Trump to follow through on his campaign promise, and this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.

That was not lost on Palestinian legislator and Christian Hanan Ashrawi.

“My god did not tell me what his god tells him,” she spat out in an interview with the BBC.

We are the original Christians, we are the owners of the land, we are the people who’ve been here for centuries. How dare they come here and give me biblical treatises and absolutist positions!”

Incidentally, the enterprising Mr Zomlot tried to play the Christian card with his Bethlehem-themed Capitol Hill reception, and has told activists the motto “Jesus is a gift from Palestine” might help translate the Palestinian message to Christian America.”

Palestinian officials of course have a long record of falsifying history in order to negate Jewish connections to the region and the ‘Jesus was a Palestinian’ canard is just one of the themes used to promote that narrative, particularly at this time of year.

Does the BBC really believe that amplifying the blatant falsehoods of professional PLO propagandists such as Ashrawi and Zomlot contributes anything of value to its audiences’ understanding of this story?

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BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

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How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

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BBC’s Bowen again misleads domestic audiences on UK PM’s statement

The February 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included a long item (from 02:36:48 here) ostensibly concerning the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London on that day which was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]today-6-2

“The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in London today for a meeting with Theresa May. The prime minister is likely to restate Britain’s opposition to building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; this at a time when American policy towards Israel is undergoing a dramatic shift. Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu loathed each other. Mr Trump, in contrast, has vowed to be Israel’s best friend. He’s refused to condemn the building of settlements, he’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, going against decades of US foreign policy. From Jerusalem, Mark Lowen now reports.”

The ensuing audio report from Mark Lowen was very similar to his filmed report seen on BBC World News television in late January, including visits to the same locations and promotion of the same unbalanced messaging.

Listeners heard a recording of Obama claiming that “the growth of the settlements are [sic] creating a reality that increasingly will make the two-state solution impossible” followed by Lowen’s assertion that:

“The bond with Barack Obama plummeted as he increasingly saw the Israeli government as an impediment to peace. In his last press conference Mr Obama alluded to his final blow: allowing a resolution to pass at the UN against settlements, which violate international law.”

Lowen went on to present a partisan interpretation of the significance of the proposed relocation of the US embassy:

“Donald Trump has taken a far more pro-Israel position. He’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Israel’s disputed claim over the whole city, although he is now lowering expectations on the issue.”

Reporting from Beit El, which he described as a “settlement on land the Palestinians want for a future state”, Lowen told listeners that:

“It looks like a regular suburb: seven thousand homes, a religious school and some buildings bearing the name Friedman – the family of David Friedman, the likely next ambassador here. He, Mr Trump and the president’s son-in-law have donated to Beit El.”

Once again, he did not inform listeners that the said Trump donation was apparently made back in 2003. Lowen also made a point of telling one of his interviewees from Beit El that “the Palestinians say it is also their territory; their ancestors also lived here”.

As was the case in his filmed report, Lowen visited the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi in Ramallah and listeners heard the same unquestioned portrayal of the supposed consequences of relocation of the US embassy.

“The language that we’ve heard, coming out as though Israel can do no wrong and that the US not only will be the patron of Israel but in many ways will be the partner of Israel in its illegal activities – is serious cause for alarm. If the US moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.”

Lowen’s audio report also included commentary from “the plot of land in Jerusalem that’s long been ear-marked for a potential US embassy” but again with no clarification of its position in relation to the 1949 Armistice lines.

Following Lowen’s report, the item moved on to a conversation with Jeremy Bowen in which he repeated some of the same themes promoted just minutes earlier on BBC Radio 5 live.

Robinson: “This issue of settlements: on the surface it appears that Trump is endorsing them and yet only the other day we were hearing that they ‘may not be helpful’ – in quotes. So is it quite as it seems?”

Bowen: “Well when they said ‘may not be helpful’ it was still a softening on what had been the long-standing American position – that they were an obstacle to peace.”

Neither Robinson nor Bowen provided listeners with an accurate representation of the statement put out by the White House press secretary on February 2nd which clearly used the phrase ‘may not be helpful’ in a specific context.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” 

Bowen continued:

Bowen: “I think the…until there is evidence to the contrary in terms of something a bit stronger than that – and I think that next week Netanyahu’s going to go and see Trump in Washington and, you know, we’ll see what comes out of that. But until there’s something really to the contrary, there is a distinct impression that Trump is prepared to give Mr Netanyahu carte blanche to go ahead with what he wants to do. But we’ll see…”

Robinson: “And that raises real…real questions for Theresa May. We saw in the UN the other day that Britain changed her historic position on settlements to try to get closer to Mr Trump.”

Of course the British prime minister’s remarks were not made “in the UN”, did not ‘change’ Britain’s “historic position” in the least and Robinson’s allegation of motive is at best highly debatable.

Bowen: Yes well, Britain supported a resolution in the dog-days of the Obama administration…err…which…err…condemned settlements and which the Americans very unusually abstained on; they didn’t veto. After that, even though it was a resolution that Britain had voted for and was also deeply involved in the drafting and presentation of, after that Number…Downing Street said that it was something that they…effectively Prime Minister May criticised Mr Kerry, then the Secretary of State’s condemnation of the expansion of settlements. And the Americans said well hang on a minute; that’s been British policy for a long time.”

Once again we see Bowen misleading listeners with an inaccurate representation of Mrs May’s remarks.

“[Downing Street] said her criticism was directed at Mr Kerry’s decision to attack the make-up of the Israeli government.

“We do not… believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

The spokesman added: “The British Government continues to believe that the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution. We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal.”

Moreover, listeners were then treated to some domestic political ‘analysis’ from Bowen based on his inaccurate misrepresentation:

Bowen: “Ah…I think that Britain has been floundering a bit on Middle Eastern policy in the last couple of months because there’s been a lack of consistency.”

Robinson: “In part is that not because, beyond the small print of this or that UN resolution, the really big stakes here are these, aren’t they: is Trump going to call time, along with Netanyahu, on the goal of Western foreign policy for decades: a two-state solution, a Palestinian state?”

Bowen: Well all…yes…I mean he might do that or it might not be quite that abrupt. He might just simply pay lip service to it while allowing things to happen which would make it impossible. There are plenty of people who believe that a two-state solution is now impossible anyway because of the volume of settlement, because of the way that Jewish settlements have…have encircled that part of Jerusalem that the Palestinians want for a capital and that Mr Netanyahu himself – who’s been prime minister for an awfully long time – while he says he wants a two-state solution, he does everything he can to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen…”

Bowen: “So there are plenty…so there are lots of people now talking about a one-state solution which might be tough for both sides.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen; thank you very much indeed.”

As we see, twice on the morning of February 6th domestic audiences listening to two different BBC radio stations were misled by Bowen with regard to a statement made by their own prime minister.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the occasion of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London was in both cases used as a hook for yet more promotion of the now standard politically motivated narrative according to which the two-state solution is solely endangered by Israeli actions.

Were Jeremy Bowen truly committed to providing BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would meet the corporation’s remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding” of this particular international issue, he of course would not have concealed from view no less relevant issues such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

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BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

 

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

Since mid-December 2016 the BBC has produced numerous reports which have included portrayal of the story of the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

To date, all the corporation’s coverage of that topic has unquestioningly amplified the position expressed by Palestinian Authority and PLO officials, according to whom such a move “will be the destruction of the peace process“, “would […] destroy the two-state solution“, would be “an end to the peace process, an end to the two states” and so on.

As we have noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences have yet to hear any alternative viewpoint – as editorial guidelines concerning ‘due impartiality’ demand – and the BBC has to date repeatedly refrained from asking any of its Palestinian interviewees why they object to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which – according to the BBC’s presentation of the issue – the PA does not lay claim.

In late January viewers of BBC World News saw a filmed report by the BBC’s Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen in which, like Yolande Knell and Tim Franks, he too visited what has recently become a ‘go to’ site for BBC journalists: a plot of vacant land next to the US Consulate in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot.

Lowen’s report can be seen here, where it is billed as follows:

“Donald Trump has pledged to be “Israel’s best friend in the US” and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, taking a far more pro-Israel position than his predecessor, Barack Obama, who increasingly saw Israel’s government as an impediment to peace. How will the new President affect this age-old conflict?”

The report began with Lowen visiting Beit El and presenting audiences with a partial interpretation of ‘international law’:

“Ties weakened under Barack Obama, frustrated by Israeli settlement building which violates international law. The final blow: allowing a resolution against it to pass at the UN. Israel was furious.”

He went on to promote as fact an interpretation of the significance of the proposed embassy relocation which dovetails with that touted by PA officials: [emphasis added]

“Donald Trump has taken a far more pro-Israel line, vowing to move the embassy to Jerusalem, recognising Israel’s disputed claim over the whole city. He said he’d be Israel’s best friend in America. Beit El settlement is deep in the occupied West Bank which Palestinians want for a future state. David Friedman – Mr Trump’s pick for US ambassador – and his family, the president and his son-in-law have donated to it. That’s encouraged those who live here.”

Lowen refrained from informing audiences that the said Trump donation was apparently made back in 2003. Moving on to Ramallah, Lowen told viewers:

“But in Ramallah, Palestinians worry Israel’s hands will now be untied to annex territory and expand settlements. A slice of America – sort of – is entrenched here but they fear support from Washington is burning away.”lowen-report-1

Viewers then heard from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

“The language that we’ve heard – particularly the language of ideology coming out as though Israel can do no wrong and that the US not only will be the patron of Israel but in many ways will be the partner of Israel in its illegal activities – this is serious cause for alarm and if it moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.”

Not only did Ashrawi’s allegation of “illegal activities” go unchallenged, but once again BBC audiences were fed an unquestioned portrayal of the supposed consequences of relocation of the US embassy.

Lowen then went on to report from Jerusalem – but without clarifying to viewers the position of his location in relation to the 1949 Armistice lines.lowen-report-2

“This is where a US embassy in Jerusalem may stand but the Trump administration has now lowered expectations, saying discussions are at a very early stage. For years the US has leased this empty plot from Israel for an annual rent of a dollar. Successive US presidents and candidates have vowed an embassy move here and then ditched it. Now Donald Trump appears to be rolling back somewhat on the same promise. When it comes to the new president, nobody really knows what his Middle East policy will be; whether an embassy will be built here and whether his rhetoric will translate into reality. So: an unknown quantity. But Israel’s most important ally is renewing the relationship and others in this region fear what it means for the borders of this contested land.”

After well over a month and a half of coverage of the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, it is glaringly apparent that the BBC has no intention of providing its audiences with a view of the topic that challenges the PA/PLO rhetoric and allows them to make their own judgements on the story. 

 

BBC webpage: Israel occupying ‘traditional Arab lands’ since 1948

BBC Editorial Guidelines concerning online content include the following:

“However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it. […]

Claims that an item is inaccurate, biased or seriously misleading must be properly investigated by the originating content team where possible. Such complaints may, at the complainant’s discretion, be referred through the BBC’s published complaints procedure up to the BBC Trust.”

Here is yet another example of a BBC webpage (headed “Education”) with no date stamp which is still available online and contains inaccurate and misleading content – in this case the claim that Israel occupied land in 1948.

“In 1948 the state of Israel was created in traditional Arab lands. Its existence was challenged by neighbouring countries and, in response to attacks by Arab neighbours, Israel secured its borders by occupying lands in which Palestinians had lived for generations.”

Ashrawi page

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Hanan Ashrawi’s lies about Temple Mount status quo given multiple BBC platforms

On October 16th the BBC’s Lyse Doucet conducted an interview with the PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi.

As well as being broadcast on BBC television news programmes, an abridged version of that interview was promoted separately on the BBC News website under the title “Israeli occupation is ‘abnormal, cruel and lethal’” and embedded into a written report titled “Palestinian rioters torch Jewish holy site Joseph’s Tomb“.Ashrawi on website

In addition to blaming Israelis for the terror attacks against them, Ashrawi used her BBC platform to promote blatant falsehoods which are at the root of the Palestinian incitement fueling the current wave of terrorism.

“…and the latest escalation is that they change the status quo of the Al Aqsa Mosque – of Haram al Sharif – and again they have blocked off Jerusalem for all Palestinians. No Palestinian West Banker or from exile or from Gaza can get to Jerusalem and they have managed to provoke every single Palestinian – Muslim, Christian or otherwise – by carrying out such draconian measures.”

Both the abridged versions appearing on the BBC News website end at that point and so audiences are left with the materially misleading impressions promoted by Ashrawi. Only those who happened to see the full report heard Lyse Doucet’s half-hearted ‘challenge’ to Ashrawi’s falsehoods and her provision of a lead for yet more propaganda.

Doucet: “Hanan Ashrawi; you mention the status quo, which is a very sensitive issue. Israeli leaders say they have not changed the status quo – that is, that Palestinians can pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, that Jews can visit the Temple Mount but they’re not allowed to pray there. They say that they haven’t changed it. You’ve seen otherwise?”

Ashrawi: “Of course. I mean we don’t need to listen to Israeli fabrications and fiction because we deal with reality – we look at what’s happening on the ground. Certainly they have changed the status quo. Certainly they have changed even the physical surroundings. They have dug beneath the mosque and el Haram Sharif. They have repeatedly prevented Palestinians from entering the mosque. They have put restrictions on the age of men and women who can enter the mosque. This is supposed to be a place of worship open to everybody. They’ve prevented Palestinians without Jerusalem IDs – which means all West Bankers and Gazans – from entering Jerusalem as a whole. Where is freedom of worship? And they’ve also transformed the Haram Sharif. So let’s talk about illegal annexation, let’s talk about changing the character, the culture, the history, the narrative of the place. And then let’s talk about provocation. This is what is happening.”

Changing the subject, Doucet makes no effort to challenge that chapter in Ashrawi’s volume of lies and distortions. She fails to clarify to audiences that any age restrictions on men (not women, as stated by Ashrawi) visiting the site are directly linked to security issues and that Palestinians from PA controlled areas and Gaza can get permits to visit Jerusalem but that the PA has reportedly failed to cooperate with such initiatives in the past. She also fails to make it clear to audiences that only on very rare occasions has the mosque been closed due to extreme incidents of Palestinian violence and that Ashrawi’s false claims are refuted by the fact that there were 3.5 million visits by Muslims to the site last year, compared to 200,000 by Christians and just 12,500 by Jews. Doucet also fails to challenge Ashrawi’s pernicious – and downright dangerous – falsehoods concerning the physical site itself which are part and parcel of the very long history of a libel used for the purpose of incitement.

Understanding what the status quo on Temple Mount is – and is not – is crucial to audience comprehension of this latest wave of terrorism and wider issues. Doucet’s widely promoted report not only fails to contribute to such comprehension, but materially misleads BBC audiences on the topic by allowing (not for the first time) an inadequately challenged platform for yet more Palestinian incitement.

 

BBC reporting on Abu Ein incident: the numbers and the narrative

In addition to the grossly inaccurate account of the circumstances preceding the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein presented in the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 10th, the programme’s evening version, presented by Tim Franks, included a report on the same topic by Kevin Connolly (available from 00:39:00 here).Newshour 10 12 Franks

As has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting on this subject, Connolly failed to provide listeners with an accurate representation of the circumstances behind the demonstration at Turmus Aya, saying:

“A group of demonstrators set out for the village of Turmus Aya because they believe that Israel’s marking out land there to build a new settlement of the sort regularly condemned by the international community near the existing settlement of Shilo.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. The demonstration – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 07:24) – was intended to garner publicity for that move, as the presence of film crews obviously informed of the event in advance also indicates. Whilst Connolly may have been told that the demonstrators “believe” there are plans to build a new community in the area, he obviously did not bother to fact-check the existence of any such plans before repeating that hearsay.

Once again, Connolly’s account of the sequence of events is also misleading.

“The Palestinians found the Israeli security forces waiting for them and a confrontation which was perhaps inevitable began quickly. In television images you can see an old man pushed to the ground and getting up and striking Israeli soldiers with a flag pole. There is a lot of violent shoving and tear gas is used. In the midst of it, Ziad Abu Ein finds a camera and begins telling the crew what’s going on. Listen carefully and you can hear him fighting for breath before he begins to speak.

Voiceover: They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is their terrorist army; practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.

Connolly: Now, within minutes of recording that brief interview Ziad Abu Zain [sic] had died in an ambulance taking him to hospital and it’s still not clear exactly what caused his death. At one point an Israeli Border Police officer was seen to grab him by the throat but perhaps very briefly. He would have inhaled tear gas and there are also stories of him being hit and shoved.”

Connolly fails to clarify that the use of tear gas was in response to an attempt by the demonstrators to approach Adei Ad and that the media interview given by Abu Ein occurred after his provocation of and altercation with the Border Police officer rather than beforehand, as clarified by Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon here (Hebrew) from 03:16.

Connolly then uses an extended version of the interview with Hanan Ashrawi (who was not present at the scene) also found in his television report on the subject from the same day and, despite the lack of any evidence proving that Abu Ein was “killed”, nevertheless includes that allegation in this item.

Ashrawi: “Well first of all it’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way. But I’m also…I have a sense of outrage. Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people: that we save the land where Israel was attempting to steal the land.”

No mention is made in this report of Abu Ein’s conviction for the murder of two Israeli teenagers and the injury of over 30 others in a terror attack on Tiberias market in 1979. Neither are listeners informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli special forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

The next day, December 11th, the evening version of Newshour (also presented by Tim Franks) included a report by Yolande Knell (from 00:45:00 here) which contained a statement from Saeb Erekat similar to the one used in her television report from the same day.Newshour 11 12 Franks  

Knell’s description of the previous day’s events is as follows:

“Yesterday television crews filmed Mr Abu Ein as he joined dozens of protesters in a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. After scuffles broke out an Israeli Border Policeman briefly grabbed Mr Abu Ein’s throat and later he fell to the ground, clutching his chest. An Israeli doctor was present at the Palestinian post-mortem examination and Chen Kugel from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine gave Israel’s conclusions.

Kugel: The findings of the autopsy were that the cause of death was a heart attack. Now this type of heart attack is caused by stress and apparently he had a stressful event just before – we all saw it – and we found some bruises in the muscle layer and the sub-cutaneous layer of the neck.

Knell: For the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, it was more clear-cut.

Erekat: Ziad Abu Ein was killed in cold blood. The autopsy report said he had an explosion in the major artery. What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible.”

As was the case in her filmed report, Knell refrains from informing audiences that there is no evidence to show that Abu Ein was “killed” or ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten’. Note too how she places the evidence-free rhetoric of Erekat on the same level as the scientific opinion of a senior physician. Neither is any attempt made by Knell to inform listeners of Abu Ein’s past conviction for terrorism.

A look at the coverage of this incident across various BBC platforms (see related articles below) shows that in two filmed reports for television, two written articles and three World Service radio programmes, the picture presented to audiences adheres predominantly to the Palestinian narrative.

In addition to hearing or reading differing and conflicting reports from unidentified Palestinian “witnesses”, “medics” and local reporters for foreign news agencies, BBC audiences were presented with two interviews with Hanan Ashrawi, one interview with Abdallah Abu Rahma and two interviews with Saeb Erekat, who was also quoted in one of the written articles. Despite the lack of any supporting evidence, audiences have been told that Ziad Abu Ein’s collapse and subsequent death was caused by inhaling tear gas, being hit and/or shoved, being hit by a tear gas canister, being beaten up, being suffocated and being hit on the head with a helmet – to name but some of the proffered accounts. They have also been told on two separate occasions across all platforms that Abu Ein was “killed” and on three further separate occasions that he was “killed in cold blood”.

In contrast, audiences heard one interview with an Israeli official (the pathologist) and in two other reports the BBC paraphrased statements concerning Abu Ein’s medical condition made by the Israeli authorities. Abu Ein’s terror conviction was only briefly mentioned in one of these reports.

The amplification of unproven, inaccurate hearsay, rumour and propaganda from obviously interested parties is not ‘impartiality’ as demanded by the BBC editorial guidelines. It is the BBC’s job to present its audiences with the verified facts behind a story in order to enable them to become better informed about events – not to blindly repeat the narratives promoted by anyone and everyone willing to speak to journalists.

Unfortunately, this kind of jumble sale journalism, in which all the tales offered to the BBC – however bizarre or disconnected from the facts – are promoted and presented as legitimate news, seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in BBC Middle East reporting.

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BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

Palestinian activist gets open mic for propagation of lies on BBC WS ‘Newshour’